From Issue 3.3 - February/March 1997
During last year's Queer Pride celebration in San Francisco, I met a sexy Australian sociologist by the name of Alan. We cruised each other for nearly an hour, wondering how to work out the specifics of our mutual yellow hankies. After spending a few days together, he invited me to visit the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardis Gras in March. After scrimping and saving from my meager wages for several months, I was able to afford the plane fare for the fourteen hour flight.
Upon arrival, I was initially disoriented by Australian customs -- driving on the left side of the road, popular slang -- but eventually I felt quite comfortable in the beautiful country (particularly since most Aussies assumed I was Canadian and not a "Yank").
Sydney has many thriving and diverse Queer communities, each with their own distinct flair and style. I discovered subcultures that focused upon the arts, cruising, and politics, among other things. I took in a some performances at Club Bent -- a forum for queer film, dance, and theater -- including a kinky dramatization of Bataille's "Story of the Eye," in which a woman on a trapeze appeared to put eggs in her mouth, only to have them reappear from her vagina.
Cruising subculture is highly visible and active. The thing that struck me most about Sydney was the wide availability of public sex. Cruising areas, or "beats" were spread across the city and the surrounding suburbs; a horny guy would not have to travel far to enjoy a quick scene. Each beat has high and low traffic times, and with a little research, satisfaction is quite likely. Although I did not experience them personally, I would not be surprised if women also have beats.
I didn't see much of an organized leather or fetish subculture (which doesn't mean that it doesn't exist!). While there were certainly some hot guys in leather, I witnessed a severe lack of subcultural visibility. Alan heard a rumor of a leather bar opening near Oxford Street, but we were disappointed to find that it was either a false rumor or the bar had not yet opened. Sydney has a few sex clubs which, depending on when you go, can be quite hot; we went to the Lion's Den, but it was too early in the evening for a satisfying experience.
Sydney's cultural values differ so much from those in the U.S. that no one questioned the success or happiness of my long term, committed relationship while I was having sex with other men. Overall, Sydney is much more liberal with regards to sexuality, and attitudes are more opne to sexual exploration and expression. AIDS organizations have been able to formulate an innovative approach to the current health crisis thanks to these values. Alan works for "the Beats Project," a government-funded program of AIDS education at beat sites; the project even receives police cooperation! The AIDS Council of New South Wales sponsors the "+/- One Community" campaign, which promotes dialog and encourages people to analyze their assumptions about and treatment of others in the community. Campaign ads read, "Are you negative towards positives?" and "Are you positive towards negatives?" It is not uncommon to see the "Safer Sex Sluts" distributing condoms and good cheer on the street. The U.S. could certainly benefit from Sydney's example; we cannot battle AIDS effectively if our culture retains its rigid and puritanical ideas about sexuality.
Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival began in 1978 as a demonstration of gay and lesbian pride. While the first celebration resulted in over 50 arrests, it marked a milestone in Australian Queer history. Every year since, the event has grown in size, and it now has police and local council support (perhaps inspired by the revenue the festival generates). Today Mardi Gras spawns a month's worth of queer art exhibits, theater, music, a film festival, and several other events.
The 1996 celebration drew an estimated 650,000 people from around the world. Onlookers lined Oxford Street and its surroundings to witness an amazingly colorful and entertaining parade. Mardi Gras is the largest gay and lesbian celebration in the world, and is eagerly awaited by all in Sydney; the words on everyone's lips for weeks in advance are "What are you wearing to Mardi Gras?". This year's parade exemplified the diversity of Queer communities. Floats not only addressed issues such as AIDS funding and Aboriginal cultural visibility, but also exhibited incredible drag, camp, and color.
Every year after the Mardi Gras parade, a huge party takes place at the nearby fairgrounds. Tickets sell out fast, and I was fortunate to get a VIP ticket courtesy of Alan. Even the election of a more conservative government on the same day could not dampen the partygoers' spirits. The celebration can only be described as a "Queer Disneyland," with huge dance pavilions, a large-screen TV showing footage from last year's parade, and people adorned in latex, leather, and various kinky outfits.
Alan and I spent much of the party in the fairground bathrooms (I can't believe I still call them that -- Aussies call them "toilets," and make fun of you if you ask for the bathroom). The overhead lights in the toilets were dismantled early, and the smell of amyl was strong. One side of each bathroom was reserved for primping and peeing, while the other side was devoted to "rooting" (fucking, sucking, etc.). That night I had some of the most incredible toilet sex I've ever had. At one point I was bent over a urinal getting fucked (with a condom, of course!), while another man talked dirty in my ear. What an expression of Queer celebration! We had to take our leave once the sun came up and our drugs wore off, since we were too tired to partake in any of the "recovery parties" (at which people come down, unless they still have more drugs to consume).
Sydney is an incredible city with much to offer. Every year between
August and September there's the Sleaze Ball, which is similar to
Mardis Gras in atmosphere, but without the parade. I recommend Mardis
Gras to any pervert, as a good time is guaranteed!